I have learned to do a bit of research and now know that following up on the references listed in my best book on the topic of interest is a great way to go. In this case, Douglas Tallamy’s book Nature’s Best Hope is the book for me. I must admit that in case I have a proselytizing opportunity, I carry around a photocopied listing of the top tree species that support the greatest biodiversity from Tallamy’s earlier book Bringing Nature Home. However, though these are good books, there are additional references and web links that are wonderful, and they are mentioned below, I find that talking with folks who know a lot more than I do really helps me get moving. I knew nothing, for example, about establishing or maintaining native prairies until I talked some knowledgeable locals. Now, 18 years later, it looks like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. They did. Now I do.
In this case, I turned to Ph.D. ecologist, Melinda Knutson, who worked with Valley Stewardship Network as a consultant a couple years ago. Melinda runs Trillium Consulting, LLC in the La Crosse area. She also contracts for US Fish and Wildlife helping to write management plans for National Wildlife Refuges. What a resource! So, I called her and described my two sites and my dilemma with selecting native, low-stature, woody plant material. She gave me a few names off the top of her head. Then, within 20 minutes, Melinda sent me a long list which she modestly referred to as “shrubs you could consider.” When I asked: “How did you come up with this so fast?” she explained that she had taken a full month of tedium to research and build a Master Spreadsheet and under the Driftless Tab I could see and sort them all. Wow!
I then took this list and went to two of the Tallamy web site references and started making notes. The first of these sites is: www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder. This site, based largely on work by Tallamy’s assistant, Kimberley Shropshire, lists native plant genera and species that occur in all 3007 counties in the contiguous US (all you have to do is enter your zip code), and it ranks these by their ability to host caterpillars. These caterpillars are the grazers at the bottom of the food chain, feeding on native “producers/plants” which together provide the foundation for all the upper trophic levels of any given region’s biodiversity.
The second site is: www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds which is also based on Shropshire’s work. This site lists all the different birds any given native plant will attract and references pollinators as well. Between these two sites, I was able to rank my list of native shrubs based on their support of biodiversity.
I am no spreadsheet guy. However, all these hand-written and highlighted notes grew awkward. So, for the first time in my damn near 70 years, I built a spreadsheet to help me keep track. I made columns for Latin Name, Common Name, description, what it attracts, height, spread, spacing, fall color, natural habitat, soils, moisture, light, fruiting, bloom time and color, tolerant/intolerant, seasonal interest, suggested use, and additional comments. Now, I have organized information to base my selections on and find material suited to my earlier-defined goals for these two sites.
The next step and the next blog will be about measuring, mapping, designating and choosing.